Hernando Commissioner John Druzbick, a former school board member, is fond of saying county government and the school district should do a better job of sharing resources, particularly when it comes to recreation.
The county's answer to providing recreation in a constrained financial atmosphere is to close parks. Druzbick, in fact, joined a three-commissioner majority in voting down planned sports league fees to help offset the cost of operating the county's parks department.
Now, it is the Hernando School Board's turn and members there will better serve the public if they ignore the commission's failed leadership and opt instead for participation fees over cutting sports programs. Tuesday, the board will hear details of budget-cutting options from superintendent Bryan Blavatt that include eliminating middle school and junior varsity interscholastic sports to save $417,000.
An alternative is a fee schedule that includes activity fees for extracurricular activities and separate charges to participate in school athletics. There are exceptions for cases of financial hardships that include a payment plan or compensating via volunteer hours.
Proceeds will not offset the program costs. The district projects the middle school charge of $35 for the first sport and a maximum of $55 per student and $80 per family will generate $21,300, or less than a fifth of the $120,000 annual cost of middle school sports. It's a bargain. The cost in neighboring Pasco, for instance, is $45 per sport, $75 per individual and $120 per family.
More than 850 students, or 16 percent of the middle school population, play interscholastic sports including football, volleyball, golf, cheerleading, softball, basketball, tennis and track. At the high school level, 28 percent of the students play sports.
Eliminating middle school and junior varsity sports effectively limits participation, in most cases, to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. It's a mistake. Sports and other extracurricular activities play an important role in a child's education, providing lessons in setting and achieving goals, teamwork, discipline, communication and time management. It also is an effective drop-out prevention program.
The School Board has much to chew on Tuesday as it attempts to close a projected $11.5 million budget shortfall. Salary cuts to teachers via canceled paid holidays, eliminating courtesy bus rides for students living within 2 miles of their schools, and canceling previously negotiated raises for employees are all up for discussion.
The district no longer can afford the luxury of footing the entire bill for interscholastic sports, but it shouldn't try to balance its ledgers by eliminating them either. Charging a fee is a reasonable alternative, one the County Commission majority failed to recognize. The School Board shouldn't do likewise.